Monday, 29 October 2007

How to teach equestrian sports? - random ponderings

I am forever searching for ways and routes that would lead to a good 'learning to ride well' strategy. There are so many books written on riding but still so many questions.
When you first learn to ride, should you spend hours on the lunge, without stirrups, reins etc just learning to feel? Should you maybe practise some elements of vaulting to start with to develop flexibility on a horse bareback?
Should you ride without stirrups or with them? Should you first learn to sit in canter or go in half-seat?
I am often asked how many hours 'until he/she can jump?', 'until he/she can compete?'...Well,
according to various coaching research, "it takes minimum of 10.000 hours of practice for an individual to become expert in their chosen field. This is the most robust finding to emerge from studies with athletes and with experts from other fields such as the arts, music, mathematics and science. 10,000 hours equates to approximately 3 hours of practice per day, every day for 10 years, a calculation that has led this finding to be known as the ‘10 Year Rule’. "

Of course we don't need to be experts to pop over British Novice course (0.95m) or ride an Elementary dressage test. We do, however, need certain amount of time 'in the saddle' in addition to knowing the theory.

Majority of the sports seem to have a ladder of knowledge and skills to climb. Trainers know what needs to be taught when, what skills need to be acquired before another set of skills can be introduced.
From what I observe, in equestrian sports (maybe except vaulting), such structure is almost non existent. Ok, there is the BHS system but if you look closer you will see that it barely provides you with some very vague guidelines. Almost every single instructor or trainer will have their own method and will teach differently.

What is the 'right' way then? I am of opinion that a rider should not be let to ride in the arena until he or she can canter on the lunge while being completely relaxed, sitting well and perhaps browsing a paper in the process ;), if I implemented that in an avarage riding school, most of the riders would die of boredom or would never ever left the lunge line...

Should there be various systems then, for those who really want to be good and those who don't care? What about all those who are not that bad but due to poor teaching, or lack of it, accumulated so many bad habits that it would take another lifetime to re-learn them?

According to BEF (British Equestrian Federation) the answer might be in the application of the equestrian specific LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development) framework.
You can find more information on it HERE.

If I had the opportunity I would really be interested in performing an experiment on various teaching methods - start people off differently according to various programmes and see which one is the best. I reckon, those who spend some time on the lunge and learn to 'feel' the horse in various situations before going on to learn how to influence the horse, would be better riders in the long run.
They might have less fun though...

To be continued (at some point).
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